Thursday, May 23, 2002


An Unexpected Bird-Related Encounter at the Division of Motor Vehicles

About three weeks ago, I visited the Regional Office of the West Virginia DMV in Martinsburg to renew my vehicle registration. While waiting, I couldn't help but notice the two (2) NASCAR license plates mounted in wooden display holders and prominently displayed on the counter. They were highly visible to waiting customers. I also noticed one (1) example of the optional SCENIC plate, also prominently displayed.

Finally, it was my turn. I approached the counter and proceeded to renew my registration. The woman behind the counter was exceptionally friendly. As she was processing the paperwork, we engaged in a conversation that went something like this:

Me: Can I ask you a simple question?

She: Sure.

Me: Why don't you have any of the NONGAME plates on display? [These feature a beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.]

She: Oh, but we do.

Me: No you don't.

She: Yes we do.

Me: Where?

She: Right there [pointing to an old, dog-eared poster tacked to the back wall].

Me: But that's just a moldy old poster. Why are you displaying actual NASCAR plates, but not the NONGAME plate?

At that point, she reached under the counter, pulled out a piece of paper, and showed it to me. It was a letter from a DMV District manager announcing that he was shipping out boxes of wooden display stands specifically for the NASCAR plates. The letter said nothing about displaying the NONGAME plate or any of the other specialty plates the the West Virginia DMV issues. She then offered me a self-addressed postcard that I could use to send complaints or suggestions to the Commissioner of the DMV, something I have yet to do.

Then, the conversation turned into a friendly discussion about birds. It immediately became clear that the clerk had more than a passing interest in wild birds. She mentioned that lots of birds had been showing up at her feeders lately, including a strange sparrow that she hadn't been able to identify. She was also proud of the fact that a Baltimore Oriole had been frequenting her backyard. A very pleasant and quite unexpected conversation!

Why the special treatment of NASCAR plates? Probably because the State of West Virginia has entered into an unholy alliance with NASCAR officials to promote the sale of NASCAR plates. Why? Because a certain percentage of each dollar spent on NASCAR plates goes out of State and directly into NASCAR's coffers. That's because the West Virginia NASCAR plates are sold through a licensing agreement with NASCAR. So, no doubt at the urging of NASCAR, the West Virginia DMV has set up an e-commerce site that allows individuals to purchse NASCAR "commemorative collectible" plates, even providing for their online purchase with a credit card.

There is an annual reservation of $30 for the West Virginia NONGAME plate, and half of that, or $15, goes to the Nongame Wildlife Fund. Money from this fund is used by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resource's Biodiversity Program for the conservation and management of the State's nongame wildlife. In my opinion, this is a very worthwhile cause, something to which all West Virginia residents should be encouraged to contribute. Unfortunately, the West Virginia NONGAME plate is all but invisible on the DMV Web site. Unlike the NASCAR plate, there is no direct link to the NONGAME plate from the DMV Home Page, the DMV does not promote the sale of NONGAME plates as "commemorative collectibles," and the public does not have the option of purchasing the NONGAME plates online with a credit card.

As far as I can tell, the inequitable promotion of NASCAR plates relative to NONGAME and other special-issue plates is due to the stupidity of West Virginia legislators for passing legislation authorizing the sale of NASCAR plates, the duplicity of administrative officials in West Virginia State government, and NASCAR corporate greed.

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